Holiday Murray: Breaking the mould

28 October 2011 - 12:03 By Nikita Ramkissoon

There aren't many bands that have a unique sound these days. Some try to imitate the greats and even more try to sound like what's on the radio. Not this one. Breaking the mould is a somewhat contemporary folk rock group from Cape Town, Holiday Murray.

The band, made up of Ellis Silverman on drums, Chris Carter on bass and violin, James Tuft on lead vocals and guitar and Justin Davenport on electric guitar, say their genre needs to be defined by the listeners rather than themselves.

"It's pointless trying to define it," says Davenport. "You just end up putting yourself into a box."

Sitting out on the balcony of Tanz Cafe in Johannesburg, these lads are cooler than the chill in the air, and far more pleasant. Each has their quirks and uniqueness to bring to the band, and although they're young by comparison to South Africa's hottest bands, Holiday Murray is no wilting flower.

They're a chilled bunch of lads in their early twenties and even though they may come across as slightly pretentious with their hippy vibe, it's endearing. The music is a force to be reckoned with. Their debut self-titled album released this year is a refreshing mix of old school folk music tying in with stunning poetry in harmony, coming together with awesome young vigour.

"The music isn't just for any market," says Tuft. "But then again, we don't write for any market.

"We write what we feel, really," he says with a smile, "and it's not essential that it's accessible to everyone."

Tuft, the energy on stage and the man behind the main mic and acoustic guitar, is the eldest of the band. Barefoot and in shorts, even in the cold of a Joburg sunset, he cannot sit still. Always fidgeting and bouncing around, there's a reason he's the front man even though there isn't a leader of the band per se. Aside from the stunning voice, he can keep a crowd going and energised. The balance of his acoustic guitar with Davenport's electric makes for some spectacular music.

Holiday Murray's influences, they say, range from groups from the 60s to some of the most recent, though, as Carter says, they don't rely on influences and rather draw inspiration. "It's not like we're knocking on Beethoven's door asking the dude for inspiration, you know. It's more like drawing from what we hear, know and understand."

Silverman says they don't have any direct influences as a band, but they listen to a lot of music. "Trance, rock... you name it. There's little we don't appreciate.

"Also, there's no single style we pursue that is inherent in the music, though the songs tend to lean towards being progressive folk rock."

Silverman seems to be the silent driving force behind the band. Long hair tied back and well-groomed, his grounded energy seems to keep them all together, and so does his drumming. Tight and precise, not a single wrist flick is without purpose. He's quiet, reserved and although he doesn't say much, he knows his stuff and he rocks out hard.

Davenport, sitting in the edge of a bench flicking his cigarette, says the music is about enjoyment rather than emulation. They sound like Simon and Garfunkel meets CSN meets The Fleet Foxes and they're happy to be classed with those artists.

Carter says they appreciate those sounds. "All of that is sonically different to music nowadays.

"Sound, you see, makes one feel. Then comes the rest. Not everyone can register lyrics but sound speaks to the soul."

And the album definitely does. From beginning to end, it's like a journey to Woodstock, to Cape Town, to the Karoo, to Middle Earth. The layers of sound create a cocoon of the 70s coming in the form of clean, precise and catchy music without being pop. What sets the music apart from the mainstream is that it's a brave endeavour into the realm of Crosby Stills and Nash, especially with harmonies that are spot on, in an age where processed beats are the order of the day.

He says music is immortal, and the rest nod in agreement. "It's not just made in a day, you know," Carter says. "It's part of a progression out of a particular point in time." Traipsing around the cafe in a trench coat, Carter, sporting a part American, part British, part South African accent, can be seen as the oddball. He commands his bass guitar like a seasoned genius, and only puts it down to fill the air with the sweet sounds of his violin.

"The trick," Tuft says, "is to remain yourself even if the music isn't being received well."

Silverman agrees saying one should not ignore what the audiences are saying and should test every market, but music is meant to be felt, not sold. "Though selling albums would be great."

Holiday Murray isn't just the four band members. If you've seen them live, you may have noticed a stick figure standing before the mic stand. He's Murray from Tanzania and he's perpetually on holiday. The boys laugh as Davenport says: "Murray writes most of the music. We just fool around." Even though they hand most of the credit to this stick man, the band says the music is the collective child of all of them.

As much as the music is unique and great, the band could do with a little more polish on the album itself. The drums sound a bit muted and some songs seem a bit dull. Also, Tuft could use a bit more training in annunciation, as some of the words melt into each other.

Some audience critics have slated them as being too young for their style and sound. Tuft shakes his head and says music has nothing to do with age. Davenport, the youngest of the four, "the baby" as Silverman calls him, says music is timeless and ageless. "Yes, we still have a lot of life to live and a lot more to learn and a lot to do... but it's all down to experience and what you take in.

"If you stay indoors, you're going to write songs about your four walls and that's crap, you know. Pieces of one are contained in the music he or she writes and we are always learning. We can never claim to be the authority on anything, though we are unique in the SA music scene today."

Davenport is scrawny with bohemian style. His boyish good looks are complimented by a huge smile, but kind of detract from the fact that he's a guitarist. That is, until, he plays. It's like a piece of heaven. He doesn't need any gimmicks or a ridiculously expensive pedal to make his music. He also plays the ukulele. He's expressive on and off stage and is the one literally letting his hair loose.

Essentially, Tuft says, it's about expressing oneself, and enjoying oneself and he thinks the band does that "pretty well".

"Because that's what music is all about, right? Enjoyment. Music is enjoyment. It makes life worthwhile."